When Khawaja Ashraf of Berkeley learned Saturday that a major earthquake had devastated his native Pakistan, he immediately telephoned relatives still living in the country.
“My cousins live in the same area as the apartment buildings that collapsed in Islamabad, but they are OK,” said Ashraf, president of the Pakistani-American Conference and a native of Lower Punjab, which sustained relatively few casualties from the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that has claimed an estimated 20,000 lives throughout the area as a whole.
Though Ashraf had no difficulty telephoning relatives, all of whom were unhurt, he said acquaintances reported being unable to contact family members who lived closer to the earthquake’s epicenter, Muzaffarabad, the capitol of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir—about 60 miles northeast of Islamabad, the nation’s capitol.
“One person had to call someone from a nearby town and ask him to go on foot to see if his relatives had survived,” he said.
Ashraf said the Pakistani-American Conference, which comprises over 400 organizations, held a conference call yesterday to coordinate aid shipments.
“From what we have been told, people are out in the cold with no food, warm clothes, blankets, medicine, nothing at all,” he said.
Mohammed Sherali, an 18-year-old employee at the Naan ‘N Curry on College Avenue, said he made sure his family in Lahore was safe, but otherwise has been too busy working to follow news of the earthquake.
“I went to mosque Friday right before it happened, so I have not had a chance to discuss it very much,” he said.
Both Ashraf and Sherali praised other countries for sending relief missions, including Pakistan’s rival, India, which has pledged 25 tons of needed supplies.
“It’s nice of them,” Sherali said. “We need the help.”
Ashraf said the international relief was critical because Pakistan was ill-equipped to deal with a major earthquake. “There was no equipment to pull people out of rubble,” he said.
UC Berkeley students are collecting donations for earthquake victims, said Sunaena Chhatry, president of the Association of South Asian Political Activists, which is working with UC Berkeley’s Pakistani Student Association and INDUS, a South Asian cultural group.
Ashraf, who also publishes the Berkeley-based online newspaper, PakistanWeekly.com, said an East Bay fundraiser was being scheduled for Sunday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Chandani Restaurant, 5748 Mowry School Road in Balentine Plaza, Newark.
For those who can’t attend the fundraiser, Ashraf recommended that donations be mailed to: Embassy of Pakistan, 3517 International Court, NW, Washington, D.C.. 20008.